On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest. Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!
Bucs reward Moroff with spot on 40-man roster
After big season at Double-A, prospect among those protected from Rule 5 Draft
By Adam Berry / MLB.com | @adamdberry |
PITTSBURGH -- Earlier this year, you wouldn't have found Max Moroff's name on a list of top prospects, not even within the Pirates' organization. But after a breakout season, Moroff has earned a spot on an even more exclusive list of players.
The Pirates added Moroff -- along with top prospects Tyler Glasnow, Josh Bell andHarold Ramirez -- to their 40-man roster on Nov. 20, protecting them from the Rule 5 Draft. While Glasnow, Bell and Ramirez are three of Pittsburgh's top prospects, the 22-year-old Moroff also commanded a roster spot with his performance this year.
"I think it's fair to say that he opened some eyes of people outside of the organization," said Larry Broadway, the Pirates' director of Minor League operations. "Inside the organization, we have always believed in Max."
The Pirates invested heavily in Moroff, giving him a $300,000 signing bonus as a 16th-round pick in the 2012 Draft. They have aggressively pushed him through their system. Moroff has moved up a level each year, and he's been considered young for each league.
"That's the goal every year, to move up -- especially as a Minor Leaguer," Moroff said. "I want to be challenged as much as I can. Hopefully I can succeed at the higher levels."
This past season, Moroff put it all together with Double-A Altoona, assuring that he'll take another step forward, to Triple-A Indianapolis, in 2016. He batted .293/.374/.409 and spent most of the season at second base while occasionally playing shortstop and third base.
After a rough first week at the plate, he worked tirelessly before and after games with Altoona hitting coach Kevin Riggs. They focused on adding rhythm to his swing, keeping him loose in the batter's box.
The extra work paid off. His offensive numbers took a big leap forward, as his average climbed nearly 50 points and he showed off some power with seven home runs, six triples and 28 doubles.
"I didn't really focus on results as much this year. I tried to hit the ball hard every single time," Moroff said. "If I got out, I got out. I tried to stay even-keeled. I wouldn't get too down."
In the past, Moroff admitted, he might have carried his offensive struggles into the field. Not this year. And it's his defensive ability that helped him land on the Pirates' 40-man roster.
"We felt that he was one of those guys that, if selected [in the Rule 5 Draft], could do enough things to help a Major League team win that he might end up staying with another organization," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "We like his versatility. We like his offensive ability and felt like it was a good protect for us."
Moroff had been a shortstop his entire life until 2014, when the Pirates asked him to move to second base. Broadway said he "took off defensively" at second, and Moroff agreed that it's now the most comfortable spot for him. But the Pirates plan to give him more time at third base, and Moroff looks forward to moving around the infield more often in the coming years.
"Definitely, I love playing different positions," Moroff said. "That's going to help me get to the big leagues faster, I think."
That ability helped catapult him all the way from unranked prospect status to the Bucs' 40-man roster. When he reports to Pirate City for Spring Training, he'll do so with the big leaguers -- a welcome reality that hasn't quite sunk in for Moroff.
"Not yet," Moroff said. "But that's where I want to be."
by Jeff Sullivan - November 25, 2015
People tend to make too much of leverage. If you’re looking to trade a player, and you announce a list of the player’s weaknesses, weaknesses no one else knew about yet, sure, that would be bad for negotiations. That also doesn’t happen. What does happen, sometimes, is that a team gets tired of a player, and expresses a willingness to trade him, and the negative opinion doesn’t matter, because what matters is the market’s demand, and the market just wants to know if a player is good or not. All you need are for two or three teams to agree that a player’s pretty neat. Talks’ll take off from there, no matter what.
This is where the Marlins seem to be with Marcell Ozuna. They grew frustrated with Ozuna — and with his agent — in 2015, and when that hoax recording came out, it was still entirely believable. Based on all the chatter, Ozuna now finds himself on the block, as the Marlins want to turn him into something else. But the Marlins souring on Ozuna isn’t going to diminish his price, because teams everywhere have called them, and those teams aren’t competing against the Marlins; they’re competing against one another. Tuesday night, reports emerged that the Mariners were heavily involved in talks, and though nothing appears to be imminent, there’s enough smoke to suggest Ozuna could be headed elsewhere within a couple weeks.
It’s not often you get to observe a situation like this. When that’s the case, it makes sense the Marlins would be in the middle of it.
Marcell Ozuna doesn’t have to be complicated. What’s his deal? He hits the ball hard.
Really hard. He has 30-home-run power, and if you’re being nice, he has 40-home-run power. Last year was a big step back for him, but even then, on batted balls captured by Statcast, Ozuna ranked 10th in baseball in average exit velocity among 152 players with at least 250 batted balls tracked. One-hundredth of a mile per hour ahead of Ozuna: Nelson Cruz. Two-hundredths behind him: Kendrys Morales. Ozuna tends to make real solid contact. When he makes contact.
That’s the strength, and what further separates Ozuna is that he’s also newly 25, and he plays a perfectly fine center field. To re-state all that: Ozuna is a young center fielder who could conceivably hit 30 dingers a year. He has four remaining seasons of team control, and because of the games the Marlins played, Ozuna didn’t qualify for Super Two. That was part of the problem between the parties in the first place, and now someone else will probably get to benefit.
Ozuna was at his best in 2014. He slugged .455 and was something like a four-win everyday player. Because of his emergence, and because of the emergence ofChristian Yelich, people wondered whether the Marlins might have the best outfield in the game. It would still be a valid question, but last year Ozuna regressed. That regression is what will keep Ozuna from costing an absolute premium. Now there’s some doubt. Ozuna was just worth closer to one win, and although he finished strong, there are more questions than there used to be.
Ozuna’s projection is worth only so much, given the obvious wide range of possible outcomes, but Steamer splits the middle and thinks 2016 Ozuna is in the neighborhood of a 2.5-win player. Taking an alternate approach, you see some elements of guys like Matt Kemp, Carlos Gonzalez, and Colby Rasmus. They had similar skillsets, and between the ages of 25-28, they were all worth 10 or 11 wins, with big upside and frustrating downside. There’s that nagging thing, though. That reminder of what could go wrong. Ozuna broke out at 23 and fell back at 24.Jeremy Hermida broke out at 23 and fell back at 24. Hermida never recovered, and this all took place with the Marlins just a few years back. They know there’s no guarantee Ozuna gets on track. If there were, he wouldn’t be shopped.
For our sake, it’s nice of the Marlins to advertise what they’re looking for. If they are to trade Ozuna, it appears they want a young starting pitcher back. In a hypothetical one-for-one, it’d be a cost-controlled young outfielder for a cost-controlled young starter. There could always be peripheral pieces, but the Marlins have established what they desire.
Looking at the Mariners, since they were discussed so much Tuesday, there are a few options. Roenis Elias has five more years of control, but he isn’t good enough. That would be selling Ozuna too low. Nate Karns also has five more years of control, but he also isn’t good enough, even if he’s better than Elias. Moving up a tier, James Paxton has four more years of control, matching Ozuna. What he doesn’t have is Ozuna’s full-season breakout, and there have been injury problems. The skill level is obvious. Paxton should interest the Marlins, but given pitcher risk relative to position-player risk, this still seems just short. That leaves you with Taijuan Walker, who has five more years of control. Over Walker’s last 20 starts, he managed seven times as many strikeouts as walks. Walker seems like too much to give up. So you could do Paxton+ for Ozuna, or Walker for Ozuna+, but in a one-for-one, the answer is somewhere between those two pitchers.
And it’s not like it has to be a one-for-one, but it is still fun to try to find a starting-pitcher Ozuna equivalent. Alex Wood has the same amount of remaining control, but his star has faded too much. Someone like Danny Salazar would be too much — he’s on the same tier as Walker, or thereabouts. A name I keep coming back to isKevin Gausman. He has five more years of control. He hasn’t had an Ozuna-level breakout, but he throws power stuff, and last year over 17 starts he managed a 97 FIP- and a 92 xFIP-. Though Ozuna’s reached the higher level, Gausman had the more encouraging 2015, and the extra control year more or less balances out the young-pitcher risk, in my mind.
So I think that’s the right kind of target, the right kind of match. To me, Marcell Ozuna is worth something like Kevin Gausman. Big upside going both directions, with the Marlins getting their power starter. Maybe Paxton would be enough; maybe the Marlins are particularly high on him, I don’t know. And as noted before, you can always sweeten a package with one or two other things. But if this trade happens, it’s going to be about the pitcher going back, most likely. And that pitcher is going to be both frustrating and promising. Quite a bit like Marcell Ozuna.
The Blue Jays Overpaid J.A. Happ
by Ben Tarhan28 November 2015
Every offseason there are a few signings that don’t quite make sense. Last season, it was the Mets signing Michael Cuddyer to a 2-year, $24 million contract in early November.
The Blue Jays signed J.A. Happ for 3-years and $36 million, and became an early candidate for the most confusing signing of the offseason. Happ played for the Jays from 2013-14, before being traded for Michael Saunders last offseason.
There are a few reasons this signing stands out as not a particularly good one. First, this season’s free agent class is ripe with pitching talent. The top of the class is full of A-List talent like Zack Greinke, David Price and Johnny Cueto.
If the Blue Jays wanted to blow money on a starting pitcher, there are plenty of free agents to choose from. It would actually make sense for Toronto to add a top tier starting pitcher to their roster.
Prior to their trade deadline acquisition of Price, the Jays starting pitching was shaky at best. Adding Price and a healthy Marcus Stroman down the stretch were a huge part of the Jays’ AL East title run.
But Happ is hardly a top tier arm. He had a career year in 2015, posting 3.3 fWAR and a career-best 3.41 FIP. But he just turned 33. It’s difficult to see 2015 as the year Happ figured it all out and became more than the replacement level arm he has been his entire career.
Prior to this season, his best season by WAR was 2012, when he posted 1.9 fWAR pitching for the Astros and Blue Jays. The last time his ERA was below 4.00 was in 2010 when he had an ERA of 3.40. And it isn’t like Happ eats a lot of innings. 2015 was just the third time Happ appeared in 30 or more games during his career, and the first time he started more than 30. Even with 31 starts, Happ only threw 172.0 innings in 2015.
This is not to mention that Happ posted peripheral numbers above his career averages as well. He walked nearly a batter fewer per nine innings than his career averages, allowed .84 home runs per nine against 1.08 and drew ground balls nearly 3% more often than normal.
So to recap, Happ has been a long reliever/spot starter/back of the rotation arm his entire career who put together a solid year in 2015. And at the age of 33, the Blue Jays just handed him $12 million for the next three seasons, which also happens to correspond with the peak years for their juggernaut offense.
The Jays had 12 pitchers start games for them this season. A full season of a healthy Stroman will help with that number, and adding a back of the rotation arm like Happ could limit that number as well. But Happ isn’t known for going deep into games, and will put stress on Toronto’s bullpen.
The Happ signing may point to bigger things for the Jays though. If they are willing to spend on a mediocre pitcher like Happ, maybe they will be in on some of the bigger names this offseason as well. Adding a top arm would take the pressure Happ, and make the signing look much more like a depth signing than a impact one.
Regardless of what Happ’s role ends up being on the Jays, $12 million a year is too much, and it will be surprising if he plays a meaningful role on the Jays by the end of the contract.
THE KIMBREL GAMBIT
Well, we have a pretty good idea of what Craig Kimbrel is worth at this point. Kimbrel – one of the prime contenders for “best active reliever in baseball” – has swapped his Atlanta address for sunny San Diego and then again for Boston, all within 2015. Boston paid a pretty price for the fireballer, sending four prospects to the Padres for the honor of having Kimbrel on their team. The Padres had previously sent Cameron Maybin , Matt Wisler and Jordan Paroubeck (and oh yeah, Carlos Quentin, who was immediately DFAed) to the Braves for Kimbrel, along with the most important piece of the deal, relieving the Braves of the contract of Melvin Upton Jr. (nee B.J.).
Apparently, at least two Major League general managers think that Kimbrel is worth a lot. And the Twitterati reaction was fast and severe in both cases. The usual lines emerged. Closers are the mashed potatoes of a Major League roster. They taste so good, but provide such limited nutritional value for the calories. At the time of Kimbrel’s deal from the Braves to the Padres, because Upton was considered to be dead weight, it was calculated that the Padres had essentially signed Kimbrel to a contract in the neighborhood of $16.5 million per year. Not bad for a guy who works only 65 innings a year. Now the Red Sox had gone and traded for the same guy and given up four guys to do it. This was obviously a classic case of a team overpaying for saves.
Or was it?
There’s no question that Kimbrel makes the Red Sox a better team, but is this an efficient use of resources on the part of the Red Sox to trade prospects for a closer?
Warning! Gory Mathematical Details Ahead!
Trying to determine whether a closer deserves a salary anywhere near the best starting pitchers always starts with an old argument. The starter will pitch 200 innings, and the closer only 65, but the closer will pitch them really important situations in the ninth inning. In statistical terms, it’s a discussion of the fact that relievers – at least in the modern bullpen – have a job description that is based largely on leverage. Perhaps it’s the only job in baseball which is entirely contingent on leverage.
At this time, I would invite everyone to insert their favorite critique about the inefficiency of the design of the closer role. Yes, teams undervalue tie game situations. Yes, there’s a case to be made to develop closers who pitch more than just one-inning stints. Yes, the three-run save is only slightly less difficult than the Wes Littleton 27-run save. But despite all of these inefficiencies, there’s a good case to be made that the closer is essentially a creature of the leverage index. He does pitch in some very important ninth innings. While starters are inserted at the beginning of a game, before the shape of the game has been revealed (it might be a nail-biter or a laugher) and a hitter can only come to bat when it’s his turn, the closer knows that he’s not going out there unless it’s a high-tension moment. What a closer does (or doesn’t do) over the course of a season will have a much greater effect on how many games his team wins than if he had done the exact same things in the fifth inning. Or if he were inserted into just random innings in a game. We need to correct for that.
In general, we tend to view player transactions through the lens of WAR. WAR, by its very nature, seeks to strip out the context out of a player’s results, although the major WAR indices are all aware that for relievers, that’s a little silly. In general, we find that in WAR for relievers, there is an adjustment made so that a pitcher’s WAR is inflated by a factor that is halfway between 1.00 (average leverage) and the average leverage that he faced in the games that he threw. If he normally faced a leverage value of 2.00, his WAR (for his pitching components) would be inflated by a factor of 1.5. The problem here is that while closers do pitch in 40-50 save situations each year, they also pitch in games where they are just getting work in or are filling an inning. (Here’s Kimbrel’s game log for last season. There are a few decidedly non-save situations.) Those “extra” innings aren’t really what teams are paying closers for, and they are generally low-leverage, but they mean that the pitcher’s “average” leverage will decrease. In other words, WAR under-values closers, even with its adjustment and here I don’t think it’s a good metric for what we really want to measure. Closers are hired to save games, even if the save stat is silly.
Instead, I’d suggest that we need to focus our evaluations of closers on save situations and instead, think of closers in terms of the win probability that they are (sorta) responsible for. Even at a more base level, we can look at a simple stat, blown saves. We know that a save that is turned into a blown save means that a team’s win probability goes from 100 percent to 0 if the blown save is a loss. And we’ll assume that it ends up at 50 percent if the closer simply lets the game be tied on his watch, rather than saving the game. Using this sort of framework, can we make a case for Kimbrel or any other elite closer as worth a major investment?
(Note: There’s probably a case to be made that adding Kimbrel has secondary value in that Koji Uehara can move into the eighth inning, and it means one more good arm in the bullpen so that John Farrell might feel more comfortable lifting a tired starter earlier… before he gets into trouble. It’s likely that this value is positive, but we’re going to ignore that for now.)
One problem with declaring Kimbrel “worth it” is the idea that we have to hold a certain skepticism that Kimbrel is actually an elite-level pitcher. It’s a strange thing to say, but relief pitchers tend to face a few hundred batters a year, far less than is generally accepted as a reliable sample for many of our key performance metrics for pitchers. Kimbrel has built up enough of a sample over the last few years that we can feel pretty good about his bona fides, but that’s a big problem with relievers in general. Because there can be huge swings in a small sample size, it’s impossible to know whether Kimbrel will give the Boston faithful a Pavarotti concert on the mound this season or merely a Foo Fighters’ one. And perhaps some other pitcher will simply have an amazing (small sample fluke) season and suddenly spending all of those resources on Kimbrel will seem a little silly.
And then there’s the argument that most competent relievers could handle a save situation. Most relievers get through single innings unscathed and the only thing that separates a closer from a “regular” reliever is that the closer does it in the ninth rather than the seventh, and for his work, he gets an “S” after his name. Seems a shame to give him all the credit when two other relievers also pitched in with scoreless innings. Saves are about when you pitch, rather than how well you pitch.
Indeed, here’s a chart showing “save” rates for teams that enter the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings ahead, but by three or fewer runs – but they preserve the lead.
While ninth-inning pitchers (usually the closer, although that could be a starter finishing a complete game) are usually pretty good at protecting small leads, they are only about 1 percentage point better than their eighth-inning brethren and a little more than 2 percentage points better than the seventh-inning guys. Sure, every little bit helps, but – in theory, anyway – cloning the seventh-inning guy and sticking him in the ninth inning (so the rest of the bullpen isn’t affected) would only result in an extra 2.5-percent chance of a blown save. The average team has about 40 save situations per year, so he would blow one extra save per year. Figuring that one save might result in either a win being changed into a tie game or a straight-up loss, that one blown save is actually worth around .75 wins (if we assume that dropping into a tie is worth a “half” win.)
I think these sorts of comparisons miss the point though. We can look at the aggregate results, but miss the variation within those groups. Using data from 2010-2014, I looked at all situations in which a reliever entered the ninth inning with a “save” opportunity (his team was leading, but by fewer than 3 runs), and looked at how often he converted those saves (got three outs and did not cough up the lead). Among the thirty most common “closers” (had the most save opportunities) in each year, performances varied from Jose Valverde’s perfect record in 2011 to Heath Bell’s 2012 season in which he had a 63 percent success rate. A good performance from a closer is around a 90 percent success rate. A bad one is around 80 percent.
These are all anointed closers and yet performance can vary widely. The difference between an 80-percent closer and a 90-percent closer would be about 4 blown saves for the average team. Again, assuming an even split between wins that turn into losses and wins that turn into ties (which we will value at half a win), that’s a swing of 3 games in the standings. Yikes!
Suddenly, we really want to make sure that we have one of the good ones in the back end of our bullpen. There’s just one tiny little problem. Is save rate (and here, I’m just using saves / save opportunity, with no adjustment for difficulty) a reliable stat, particular in a sample size like 40 save opportunities in a season? I used the Kuder-Richardson reliability formula that I have used elsewhere to answer the question. Even at a sample of 40 save opportunities, the reliability for save rate barely budged above zero. Remember how we used to think that all pitchers were league average when it came to BABIP and that any variations were the product of luck? This is the same sort of finding. Among closers, there’s so much noise around performance that it’s nigh impossible to tell (using save rate anyway) who’s a good closer and who’s not.
There’s an important mistake that people often make in this sort of argument, mistaking the unreliability of our current measures for the impossibility of their ever being measured. Let’s for a moment acknowledge what we know to be true. There are differences between relief pitchers in how good they are at their jobs. There’s Saint Mariano on one end of the continuum and Joe “Oh God” Borowski on the other. (At least that’s what I said every time he came into a game in 2007 for the Indians.)
We acknowledge that there’s a lot of noise, but “a lot of noise” doesn’t mean that there’s absolutely no signal in there. That was the mistake of hardcore DIPS theory. A lot of noise means that there would be years when Borowski was better than Rivera at doing their shared job, but of course, when I tell you that I’d rather have Rivera closing for me than Borowski, you’d understand why.
It’s possible that Craig Kimbrel next year would have an 80-percent save percentage season just by dumb luck. Maybe he’ll have a 90-percent season (or better!), and there’s a lot riding on that small sample size (again, we might assume three games in the standings between those two points). Now it’s just a matter of how confident you can feel in your ability to discern the signal of which bin he’s likely to end up in. We don’t know which way luck will break, but if we can either do some #GoryMath or use all that touchy-feely stuff, and figure out (or guess) that Kimbrel has a 33-percent better chance of ending up in the “good bin” than the bad bin, then he’s worth about a win more than a replacement level closer, even pushing further aside that he’s likely better than the other seventh- or eighth-inning guys that the Red Sox could have gotten. And probably Koji Uehara. Suddenly, valuing him at $5-7 million more per year than the average closer makes a little more sense.
The Problem Is Those Error Bars
Looked at from a probabilistic standpoint, Craig Kimbrel is probably a pretty good investment. There’s a general agreement that he’s probably one of the best relievers in the game, which means he’s probably one of the best bets to put up a good save conversion rate, and that’s worth a lot if he’s able to do it. The problem is that unlike signing a third baseman or a shortstop to stick in left field, where the results would be much more predicta… oh right… well, position players do tend to be more secure bets. The Red Sox essentially bought a high volatility asset, but one with significant upside. And while it’s easy to critique them for placing such a risky bet, we have to remember that – despite being the ****ing Red Sox, they do not have infinite resources, nor do they have limitless opportunities to nab players that have the potential to bring them three wins worth of value.
The Red Sox paid a steep price for Kimbrel, and they’ll pay him a salary of $11.25 million this year, and $13 million in the two seasons after that. And they might get burned on the whole deal. But to win in baseball, you sometimes have to live with some high variance strategies. Suppose that a team felt that it had a roster with 84-win talent and was choosing between a player who was a guaranteed 2-win upgrade and one who might bring them nothing or might bring them four wins. Eighty-six wins probably doesn’t secure a playoff spot, but 88 might, and it’s only by signing the higher variance guy that they have a chance to make the playoffs. All playoff teams get a little lucky. The trick is structuring your team so that if the lucky wind blows your way, your sails are positioned in such a way that it will really move you.
The Red Sox want to contend, so this move makes sense in the way that a lot of prospects-for-veterans trades make sense. The Red Sox probably overpaid in terms of prospects (everyone does) but let’s not undervalue what they got back in the form of three years of, likely, the best closer in baseball at what looks to be a reasonable salary. The problem is those error bars.
"It's a 9-and-a-half-billion dollar industry," was the response we got from one of the folks we surveyed. "Nobody is going to want to blow it up."
Updated: November 25,
Highlighting the major issues that could hang over the next labor deal
By Jayson Stark
Here's something you can be thankful for as you chomp on your turkey and stuffing: Since the last baseball work stoppage -- and that's now 20 years ago, if you're scoring at home -- the three other major North American sports have had six of them.
So how 'bout that. Baseball. The sports world's new bastion of labor peace. It's safe to say Marvin Miller, Bowie Kuhn and Curt Flood never saw that coming.
But in sports, nothing lasts forever. Not even World Series droughts on the North Side of Chicago (theoretically). So it's hard not to wonder. How long can this golden era of baseball kumbaya-hood last?
It's a question worth asking now because the expiration date on baseball's current labor deal will be upon us in a year and six days, on Dec. 1, 2016. It's a question worth asking because this winter, sometime after the first of the year, negotiations will begin on the next labor deal.
It's a question worth asking because so much has changed since the last deal was hammered out in November 2011. Rob Manfred negotiated the last one on the owners' side. He's the commissioner now. Michael Weiner negotiated the last one on the players' side. Tragically, he died of cancer, way too young, only two years later.
So because it's a question worth asking, we've asked it repeatedly over the last few weeks, of a dozen people on both sides. And we have to admit we're relieved by the optimistic answers we've received.
"It's a 9-and-a-half-billion dollar industry," was the response we got from one of the folks we surveyed. "Nobody is going to want to blow it up."
Fortunately, we heard sentiments to that effect over and over. That's the good news. But just because there won't be a war doesn't mean there won't be a battlefield. That's the bad news.
So what are the issues that could hang over these talks -- and potentially change the face of this sport? Here are just some of the big ones, in no particular order:
The Chicago Cubs have been accused of it. The Houston Astros have all but admitted it. The Atlanta Braves have denied they're in the midst of it. But if there's even a chance tanking can turn into the new genius, this sport has to address it.
There are plenty of people spinning this as nothing new, just a variation on the strip-it-down-then-build-it-up renovations teams have been doing for years. But there are others who recognize that some really smart front offices have figured out it's a way to manipulate the current system, by stocking up on high draft picks and the bonus pool that comes with them.
What's the answer?: We've never heard more talk about a draft lottery than we've heard lately. But it would make sense that an NBA-type issue could produce an NBA-type solution. Here's another idea, however, that could even be more effective: No team would be allowed to pick in, say, the top five of the draft in back-to-back years. Think of the impact. The Astros had the first pick in three straight drafts. The Cubs grabbed Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber with the second and fourth picks in consecutive drafts. Should that be OK with the powers that be? It's possible we're about to find out.
Qualifying offers and compensation picks
We're now four years into a system that has seen 54 free agents have the option to accept a qualifying offer that would have paid them between $13.3 million (the 2012 figure) and $15.8 million (the 2015 figure) -- but for only one year. Precisely three of those 54 have accepted (all three this month).
So here's the question: If you have an issue affecting so few players, does it constitute some sort of crisis needing to be fixed? Well, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales would vote yes. There are a whole lot of people on the other side who would vote no. So let the debate begin.
What's the answer?: The ideas are already flying. The union could push for a system that would give teams that lose one of these free agents a bonus pick -- but not force the team signing them to lose a pick. Or there could be flexibility built into those qualifying offers. Maybe teams could be allowed to make a two-year qualifying offer. Maybe players who accept a qualifying offer could be given a 30-day or 45-day window to negotiate a longer deal with their old team. Or maybe this winter was proof that, once a few players actually accepted those offers, the system would just correct itself -- and nothing needs changing. Stay tuned.
Luxury tax thresholds and revenue sharing
If there's any one issue that could turn explosive in the next year, this is it. It just happens to be an issue that's mostly an internal, ownership-only wrestling match waiting to happen.
But do the math. This in an industry now estimated by outsiders to be sharing close to $400 million in revenue. Just a handful of teams are bankrolling most of that. So there could be a fascinating donnybrook coming over who's paying, who's receiving what and how that money should be spent. Also in play is where the luxury-tax threshold is heading. Four years ago, only 12 teams had $100-million payrolls. This year it was 22. So the threshold, now at $189 million, seems certain to rise. But how high? And which teams would it impact? Major issues.
What's the answer?: Are we finally going to see requirements that teams which cash massive revenue-sharing checks have to spend that money on major-league payroll? Excellent question. The union is philosophically opposed to a salary cap, so it feels it has no choice but to resist an official payroll floor. But on the other side, the frustration is said to be building among the teams that are writing those checks. They could insist on a formula that says: "If you're getting this money, you have to spend X percent on payroll and player development -- and prove it." We heard predictions that ranged from a dramatic overhaul of the revenue-sharing system to not much more than a "tune-up." But in a sport in which the commissioner is predicting $15 billion in revenues down the road, the battle over what happens to those revenues feels more likely to be monumental than minor.
Shortening the season
It's amazing how many people now understand that cramming 162 baseball games into a 26-week season is insane. So you'd think those same people would agree that cutting the season to 154 games, or something like that, is the way to go. Oh really? Guess again.
The response from most owners goes exactly the way it has gone for years: If the players want to roll back their salaries to make up all that lost revenue, the owners would be happy to talk. If not, good luck. But there are wise men on both sides who see beyond that logic. Stop running the players into the ground, they say, and maybe the disabled list wouldn't have more names on it than the lineup card. And if you don't think health can also mean wealth, you're not viewing life through a wide-angle lens. More than a half-billion dollars was wasted this year on players who were on the DL, not on the field. That's a gigantic area of potential savings.
What's the answer?: Ask players about this, and they'd love to see even fewer games -- 150, 152, whatever number would fly. But on the other side, the only number anyone seems to believe is feasible is 158. And mustering enough votes for even a cut that small would be a long shot. But finding ways to create more days off, in a post-amphetamines age, is going to be a major topic. Would a monthly, or even an annual, Ernie Banks Doubleheader Day be an option? Sadly, there's not much enthusiasm for any Let's Play Two brainstorms. One possibility we've heard a lot of speculation about: Shortening spring training, to allow the season to start a week earlier. That could add an extra day off a month, or allow the postseason to start (and end) earlier. Or maybe both, with an adjustment to both the start and end dates of spring training.
Fixing the schedule
And now a related development. Travel. Scheduling. Start times. Whether or not baseball finds a way to create more days off, it has to figure out how to make the schedule less grueling. For everyone. There might be no more important issue for the players' side than more humane game times on getaway days. And if there's a way to reduce the ridiculous number of multi-time-zone road trips, especially for West Coast teams, someone needs to find it.
But you may be startled to learn this isn't as easy as it sounds. A significant reduction in prime-time start times could translate into less TV money. And there's still that pesky ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, which provides the only regular, exclusive, prime-time national showcase for this sport every week of the season, but also can create brutal travel times. That's not going away.
What's the answer?: Every indication we get is players are ready to fight for those earlier getaway-day start times. And it's hard to envision them accepting anything that would cause their travel demands to get even crazier. Could they use a pushback against regular-season games outside North America for leverage? Wouldn't shock us.
Here's one more area both sides could explore to help players survive the season. Does the 25-man roster still make sense? There seems to be real sentiment for increasing that limit from April through August, then taking a hard look at the havoc that's often being wreaked by 40-man rosters in September. And it's about time.
Peace in sports
Work stoppages in the four major sports since April, 1995.
What's the answer?: We've heard proposals for expanding rosters to 27 or 28 players during the season, but designating a 25-man "active" roster for each game. That could be a potential cure for relief-pitcher abuse, if nothing else. There's also a related proposal floating around that would automatically make any reliever ineligible for that nightly roster if he'd pitched three days in a row. Good idea. And in September, that 25-man "active" roster would still apply, no matter how many minor-league call-ups a team makes. That's one more excellent concept that has been out there for years. But now, its time might finally come.
Once again four years ago, owners and players formed a committee to study the feasibility of an international draft. Once again, it turned out to be not really feasible. So instead, they implemented a new international signing pool for each team, with what they thought would be heavy penalties for clubs that went over their soft pool allotment. Four years later, pretty much everyone agrees that, hoo boy, did that ever not work.
Between huge bonuses for several Cuban players who were exempt from the pool, large-market teams that didn't view tax penalties as much of an impediment and even whispers of funny business by teams intent on circumventing the system, those rules didn't A) keep bonuses in line or B) make the international market any more equitable. So here we go again. Ready for another blue-ribbon committee to study that international draft? Here it comes, in 3-2-1.
What's the answer?: The commissioner is one of the biggest fans of an international draft. But it remains almost impossible to actually implement one, without creating more global drama than it's worth. So get ready for a push for a tougher slotting system, with penalties that will cost teams players, roster spots and/or draft picks. If there's one thing the last four years have proven, it's that, for some teams, money penalties represent no penalties at all.
It won't be just the world draft that will find its way to the bargaining table, of course. It will also be the June draft. Four years ago, baseball tried out a whole new system of slotting, bonus pools and rules that were supposed to make it more difficult to accumulate picks and manipulate the system. Instead, teams found new ways to accumulate picks and manipulate the system. Anybody think that'll come up?
What's the answer?: We mentioned earlier there's talk of a draft lottery. Beyond that, this could go in a zillion different directions. Harder slotting? A readjusted formula to calculate the pools? Moving the draft to Omaha during the College World Series, or even into July, to the site of the All-Star Game? Trading picks? Restricting the window for picks to sign? Revamping the heavily criticized Competitive Balance Lottery, which this year somehow bestowed a high pick on the St. Louis Cardinals but no pick at all on the Tampa Bay Rays? Way too early to tell where this discussion will end up.
Dividing the pie
It was just a couple of weeks ago that Scott Boras caused a major stir on this front at the general managers' meetings. All by claiming that when owners and players slice up their juicy revenue pie, 57 percent goes to the clubs and just 43 percent to the players. Just one minor problem with that description of life down at Boras' bake shop: Neither side agrees with his math. Multiple sources say the split is actually close to 50-50, depending on how you calculate benefits. And any comparisons between baseball and the other sports are irrelevant, because the sports with salary caps are dividing up "designated revenues," not the entire pie. So ...
What's the answer?: Um, never mind. Doesn't sound as if this is going to be an issue. And even if it is, players and agents can directly affect how the pie gets divided, in a cap-free market, with every contract they agree to.
What else is in play?
If you've ever seen an actual Collective Bargaining Agreement, all 311 pages of it, you know this is just the highlight reel of the many, many topics covered in it. We haven't even mentioned arbitration, the "Kris Bryant" service-time rules, PEDs, smokeless tobacco, replay, the World Baseball Classic, expansion, waivers, minimum salaries, meal money or hundreds of other issues that need to be agreed upon.
And one of the biggest bargaining issues of all, over the next year, won't ever appear in print. Will the owners spend the next year trying to push, prod and test the resolve of new union chief Tony Clark? What do you think? Will the players make a proposal, or two, or 20, designed to test how different life will be under the Rob Manfred administration than the Bud Selig administration? What do you think?
It's a different world now. It's a different sport. It's a different business. But it took a recent survey by the Sports Business Journal to spell out just how different.
Asked which major sport had the best chance of a work stoppage during its next labor negotiation, only 6 percent of 626 respondents answered: Major League Baseball. Two decades ago, it might have been 106 percent. But here in the 21st century, you know what we've learned? That peace in baseball is proving a lot more doable than peace on earth.